Mecca Sneezes, Gambia Catches Cold
Momodou Lamin Touray
Saturday, December 17, 2011
With the GRTS Friday Dec.2 evening broadcast that Sunday Dec.4 would mark ‘Yawmul Ashura’, Mba Fatoumata Jabbi Ceesay, 40, was put to her feet up.
A wife to a civil with whom she had six children, Mrs Ceesay, like many Gambian women, cultured to accept her role of carrying out domestic chores in her household, is always required to be a sophisticated Gambian wife.
She knew that ‘Yawmul Ashura’ better known as ‘Tamharit’ was another feast. And unfailingly, another hectic moment, more especially for a responsible married women like her.
And on this occasion, the 40-year old woman living in a typical Gambian household – extended family where she is the eldest of his husband’s three wives, as well his husband’s younger brothers’ - did not kill time to set out to do her task in giving such a feast its meaning.
“I woke up earlier than usual the following morning after the announcement by Supreme Islamic Council to make preparations for the ‘Tamharit,’,” she told KISSYKISSYMANSA
Like the conventional calendar, the Islamic calendar has 12 months. It begins with Muharram and ends with Zul Hijjah as decreed by Allah in the holy Quran.
Like other godly religions such as Christianity and Judaism, Muslims worldwide observe a number of annual feasts.
For instance, the month of Ramadan is observed by fasting. Every adult Muslim is obliged to keep away from food and water and other pleasures from sunset till sunrise. The month of Ramadan ends with a feast called Koriteh.
This is followed two months later by Tobaski, the bigger feast in terms of extravagancy amid abundant food and brand new cloths to wear.
Tobaski marks the day Allah saved prophet Ishmael from being sacrificed by his father, prophet Ibrahim.
And the observance of ‘Yawmul Ashura’, an Arabic term translated as the tenth day (of the month of Maharram) is justified by many historical events.
According to Islamic history, it was on the tenth day of the month of Muharram that Adam, the first human being sent on earth was created by Allah.
Moreover, it was on the tenth of the month of Maharram that prophet Ibrahim was saved from the blazing fire he had been thrown into by his own idol worshipping people after he axed down their idols.
Furthermore, prophet Musa was saved from the wrath of the despotic king of Egypt, who goes by the title the Pharaoh on the tenth of the month of Maharram.
In addition, it was on this day that Prophet Yusupha was rescued from a snake infested well he had been thrown into by his brothers, who envied his closeness to their father, Yakubu, also a prophet.
And according to scholars, it was on the tenth day of month of Muharram that prophet Solomon, who is said to rule over human beings, gins and even animals climbed to his throne.
However, events on the Islamic calendar, unlike the conventional one, are difficult to predict. A month begins at the sight of a new crescent, which appears either on the 29th day or the 30th.
Scholarly opinions are divided on whether Muslims worldwide could observe the feasts such as Tobaski or Yawmul Ashura on the same time given the different geographical zones.
For instance, a night in United States of America could be daytime in The Gambia.
Over the past several centuries, Gambia has been generally accustomed to observing Muslim feasts upon sighting the moon in the country or neighbouring countries such as Senegal, as dictated on one hand of the divided view points.
On the other hand, however, it is argued that the sighting of a crescent by a credible Muslim in any part of the world should suffice Muslims worldwide.
The latter view point was by and large unendorsed by a greater number of Gambian Muslim scholars and thus, its apparent imposition on Gambians by the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council has damaged the council’s credibility and diminished its moral voice.
As the umbrella Islamic body, the Council is receiving criticisms on two grounds:
That it has succumbed to the dictates of the Gambian president Yahya Jammeh to tag along the Mecca calendar to avoid division. But the results yield a grander division.
And that the decision of following Mecca is a form of Islamic colonisation. As imam Ba-Kawsu Fofana, a firebrand scholar critical of the Council would quiz: Is it Mecca’s moon of everybody’s?
With this critical review of what the Council otherwise deems more appropriate and rubbishes claims of political influences, division within the Gambian Muslim community in observing such feasts has, for the past three years, become an unfailing recurrence.
Infact, the last time Gambians unvaryingly observed the feast of Koriteh was in 2008 - the year the current Imam Momodou Lamin Touray led executive took over office.
In spite of Gambian president Yahya Jammeh’s threats, yet a larger number of Gambian Muslims continue to observe the feasts upon sighting the moon, instead of SIC’s insistence on tagging along the Mecca calendar.
But even so, the Islamic Council has a degree following. Because it is seemingly slanted, politically, towards the incumbent government in a country with multi party politics, certain people who never want to defy the authorities that be even on a wrong cause and those who feel threatened by virtue of their position, have been abiding.
This has been manifested, resulting in the resignation of an imam, who refused to give in to the demands of the village headman and some villagers to lead prayers on a SIC declared date for Tobaski. This, however, does not say that all those who defy the council’s position are opposition sympathysisers.
Ahead of this year’s ‘Tamharit,’ some Muslims communities have already planned to observe the feast on Monday Dec.5, as per their calculations, though the likes of Mrs Ceesay were doing a ‘wait and hear’ from the Council.
On Friday Dec.2, when it was announced over GRTS that SIC has got information from Saudi Arabia that Sunday Dec.4 would mark ‘Tamharit’, she rushed to the market the following day early morning to do the necessary shopping.
Like Koriteh and Tobaski, in observing this Day, Muslims in Gambia prepare what is more than enough food for the family, and had to dish out neighbours and loved ones and even the needy so that no one would miss out.
Preparing special dishes on such occasions is a norm, and eating beyond capacity marks a fundamental pillar of ‘Yawmul ashura’ in The Gambia.
Kids, more especially would be threatened by elders to take in more than they could contain else a haggard old woman would come after them at night.
And expectedly, Mrs Ceesay shopped more than what was normally more than enough for the consumption of her household.
“I bought coos at the market, milled it and prepared coos-coos on Saturday Dec.3,” she told Kissykissymansa at her residence, which is not mentioned here because she prefers so.
The coos coos, locally called ‘futo’ as in Mandinka and ‘chere’ as in Wollof was to go along with cassava leaf soup, she says.
She then looked forward to a Sunday ‘Tamharit,’ but to her disappointment, the Islamic Council made another announcement on Saturday that Monday Dec.5 would instead mark the feast.
According to said press release, the error occurred on the part of the Saudi Arabian authorities the Council insist relying on.
Unfortunately, this sneeze by the Meccan authorities has caused a cough here in Gambia for the likes of Mrs Fatoumata Jabbie Ceesay.
The ‘futo’ or ‘chere’ she spent money, time and energy could not wait till Monday. Residing in an area where there is not electricity, she has no preservations means like a refrigerator to prevent it from getting spoiled.
And she did not wait till Monday to realise that the coos coos the family was hungrily looking forward to devouring was no longer edible.
Furious and disappointed, she cursed herself and then the Supreme Islamic Council.
“They have caused this damage,” she lamented, referring to the Islamic Council. “Had they not brought about this controversy, this would not have happened.”
Still determined to give the feasts its taste, she settled for rice, which is not the most preferable on an occasion like ‘Yawmul Ashura’ when people would like to do a dish renaissance.